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Bittersweet

January 13th, 2009 (07:37 pm)

 


 

Thinking about jobs I’ve had, people I’ve known, the best and the worst employment opportunities, I remembered being a marine scientist. 

In January, three years ago, I traveled to Olympia with my boss, a quiet Asian American, son of a Japanese preacher.  We were taking soil samples from the depths of the bay, drilling a tube into the muck to test for toxins.  Joyous work.  The crew of the barge was rough-n-tumble, more comfortable in a biker bar with a peanut shell floor than a brewpub.  Bundled in wool and safety gear, I had to focus on carefully maneuvering along the back of the barge rather than socializing, moving from the soil plug to the jars, hosing things down, changing gloves and starting over again.

Being on the water in January is usually cold enough to numb your hands, without the constant spray from the hose, but the wind picked up as the afternoon wore on, and the temperature dropped into the low 20s.  In between plugs, I jumped up and down in my raingear bib overalls, my hands under my armpits.  Keep working, keep moving, make the fingers bend, only 20 more to go… 

Shivering and seasick, I hardly noticed the snow beginning to fall until the boat pulled in to the harbor.  It was dark, and the crew left to get dinner, leaving us to finish making up our samples under the dock light.   I grew to dislike the sound of sand being scraped from a metal bowl by a metal spoon.  After a time, I stopped shivering, and my fingers could no longer grip the sample bottle lids to screw them down.  I used my palms.  From one moment to the next, I forgot what I was doing.  Weren’t we done?  No, still have to split the samples from the 32nd run into the 33rd – or something, I’d lost coherent thought by that time.  I don’t even remember getting from the barge to the hotel.

I have never felt anything as simultaneously painful and wonderful as that bath.  Taking my clothes off seemed to take hours.  My rubber boots almost went into the bath with me; I had so much trouble pulling them off my numb feet.  I couldn’t tell the temperature of the water, but trusted that the steam meant hot.  Anything had to be warmer than I was, but I added a dollop of cold in case the water heaters were turned on to kitchen-scald.  As I lowered myself into the tub I could not feel my hands or feet, my rear was numb, and my face tingled.  My back felt the heat, but in an arm-asleep way, which quickly lost its novelty as the rest of my nerves thawed awake screaming.  I was beet red from head to toe in a matter of seconds - and it was glorious!  Thousands of needles stabbed my flesh, and I couldn’t keep my breathing regular.  Slowly the ice melted and I could bend my fingers. 

I fell asleep that night feeling like a bowl of tapioca pudding, fresh out of the microwave.

 

 

Comments

Posted by: just_one_of_us (just_one_of_us)
Posted at: January 15th, 2009 05:35 pm (UTC)

wow... how long did you have to endure this?

I remember having to unthaw my feet after a day on a ski slope, but my butt... wow!

Posted by: Liora (celtlass)
Posted at: January 15th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)

I've never been so cold in my life. Hypothermia gives you a strange, removed perspective, though, and I stopped noticing the cold after a while and just got annoyed that my body wasn't doing what I wanted it to do. All in the name of science, and dioxin-laced marine sediments.

I liked digging clams and counting fish, better. But after a year and a half of it, I took a job in terrestrial ecology.

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